This is a blog for Camberwell Students and Staff to talk about, critique and generally think about the Foundation Film Programme (check out the other blog criticalvoices.blogspot.com)
Didn't really want to be first to comment but, I was actually quite surprised that this film was the length of a normal film, I expected it to be a short film. I personally felt it was a little monotonous as I am not a big fan of slapstick however it was interesting to see a silent film, especially in the environment of a cinema.
Hi Alice Congratulations on being the first ....in my experience those who are prepared to commit themselves critically go on to great things...good luck. I agree that these old films can seem slow or repetitive, however i would point to the scene where Buster sits on the side of the train and slowly disappears into the tunnel as one of the most sublime moments in cinema. Check out Steve McQueen's short videos (the artist not the motorbike rider) which are made in response to these films - they are really beautiful.Dave
I like the fact that The general is the story of a weedy (but resourceful) bloke winning the day in the rough 'manly' environment of war.The bit where Buster can't believe his eyes when the carriage in front disappears and then reappears is also wonderful.
Thinking of black and white silent features it would be great to see Chaplin's The Dictator
The aspect of this film that I found the most appealing, or rather interesting is the fact that it is essentially a movie constructed on the premise of the "bad guys" winning. Even if their triumph is only a small one within the larger picture of the US Civil War, there is something quite peculiar about a major motion picture of it's time being based entirely on one small victory of an Army that fought for the right to hold slaves among other things. In a modern day film, or at least one with the backing of a major Hollywood studio, The General would almost certainly be condensed into a few tense scenes before the Union Army burns Atlanta to the ground and the Rebels lay down their arms. It seems strange to think that in 2009, almost a century and a half after the end of the Civil War, we wouldn't stomach a Confederate triumph, and yet in 1926, when the effects of the war were still being felt in America, this sort of film could be made without any objection regarding the military affiliation of the Hero. Now, it is possible that Keaton simply enjoyed the true story behind the film, and thought that his slapstick film would be too far off from any sort of political stance that someone could raise objections to. In a sense he is right, while the film received some poor reviews it seems as if none of the reviewers saw it as anything more than a simple comedy, albeit one they did not find very funny. At the same time though, the issue of why a Confederate hero could go uncontested in post Civil War America could be rooted in a certain dissatisfaction with the life that was provided following the war. In 1926, the United States was coming away from a triumph in Europe with a much more respected world position, along with being on of the leading Industrialized nations. While those ideas may seem like initial positives, it also meant that large American cities were more crowded than ever, and with immigration laws doing very little to help the problem, many towns were becoming overpopulated, dirty, and unsafe, if they were not so already. The state of life in Northern metropolises drove many people to feelings of nostalgia for a simpler time, which of course led to thoughts of the romanticized South. Certainly, to a Northern who was wedged into his city like a sardine, the idea of whole acres to himself, sweet tea on the porch, and Southern belles, much like Annabelle Lee, must have been appealing. When considering the fact that the cinema was probably one of the few oppourtunities by which a man could escape his circumstances for a few hours, it makes sense that a person might enjoy seeing The South triump over the North which now indirectly oppresses them, simply because the sensibilities of Old Dixie appeal to them. Of course, aside from nostalgic pangs, one could argue that racism also played a role in the production of movies such as this, after all it is known that many Northerners still actively supported slavery, and no form of equality would really be achieved in the country for another 30 or 40 years after The General. In all honesty though, I think that this movie so clearly steers away from the race issue,to the point that racists and those who appose them alike, would have trouble finding any faults or triumphs against or for their causes respectively. I may be reading a bit too far into this but I considered it an issue worthy of some exploration.